04 Sep

6 Things Great Parents Do . . . at least sometimes

Let me start out by saying that if you do all of these things regularly, I bow down to you. In my view, these are 6 things that great parents do at least sometimes. Because doing them all, all the time, is a pretty tall order.  It is for me, anyway.

So here they are, 6 things great parents do at least sometimes:

1. Make time to have fun with their kids, 1:1.  I was skeptical when a parenting consultant, some 10 years ago, recommended I spend daily “special time” (1:1 time with your child doing something they enjoy) with my child to diminish defiant behavior. I don’t think I followed through. At the time, I couldn’t see the link between having fun with my child and getting them to stop being so darned difficult.

But now I know how potent this investment is. When children feel loved, connected, and really understood by us, they are calmer, more grounded, and quite simply, more open to our influence. In their 2008 Article Assuming the Best, Rick Smith and Mary Lambert cite evidence that teachers who spent two minutes a day for 10 days in a row by having a personal conversation with a difficult student (“2 by 10 Strategy”) improved the student’s behavior by 85%.  That is HUGE!  Imagine what 10 minutes a day might do for your own child.

And of course, the real benefit of spending quality 1:1 time with our kids is that we build relationships that nurture us both for the long term.

2.  Hold limits with firmness and kindness.  I watched some parents do this masterfully at a pool party several years ago.

Their 4YO daughter had been swimming blissfully in the pool when it was nearing time to go.  The Dad walked over to where his daughter was swimming, got her attention, and let her know that in 10 minutes she would need to get out and dry off.  He then explained that 10 minutes was about enough time to do 15 handstands or 15 dives.

Nine minutes later, he got her attention again and said, “One more minute!  Time to finish what you’re doing.”  After another minute, he approached her with an open towel and told her it was time to get out.  She resisted with complaints and negotiation.  But the Dad stayed there, and calmly repeated, “It’s time now.”  He didn’t get immediate compliance, but he waited patiently with open towel and within a few minutes his daughter swam to him, crying and whining about having to get out of the pool.  It was quite a scene, actually.  Her cries were loud and heartfelt!

But the Dad simply wrapped her into the towel and picked her up. “That pool was a lot of fun.  It’s hard to get out, huh?” he empathized as he gathered the rest of his family, cheerfully said good-bye to me and other guests, and left, his daughter crying in his arms all the while.

Nicely done, Dad!  He didn’t grab her harshly and yell at her.  He didn’t storm out while demanding that she stop crying.  On the other hand, he didn’t give in and let her swim for another 10 minutes, either.  He had very respectfully set the limit, let her know it was imminent, and then when she resisted, he held the limit with gentle firmness.

3.  Model what respectful behavior looks like.  One of my Positive Discipline mentors once said, “It’s very hard to be disrespectful to someone who is being respectful to you.”  I have found this to be true in my own experience.   What are our kids learning about respect when we yell at them, demean them, or avoid giving them responsibility?  Respectful behavior looks like:

  • really listening
  • moving to where your child is and getting their eye contact before making a request (vs yelling from another room)
  • following through with what you say you’ll do
  • giving advance notice for changes or transitions
  • giving kids meaningful responsibilities
  • letting kids make and learn from their own mistakes
  • involving kids in problem solving and more

Often people confuse respect with obedience but they are most certainly not the same.  Respect literally means to admire.  When we show our kids respect, we show them that they are worthy of admiration.  If we want to be respected, we must give them something to admire.  When children feel admiration for and from us, it is just natural for them to be more cooperative.

4.  Look for solutions rather than blame, shame and pain.  We now have overflowing evidence that punishment backfires in the long run, and often short run, too.  Blame and shame invite resentment, rebellion, revenge, or retreat (“Wow, you’re right.  I am a bad person.”)  Solutions, on the other hand, invite problem-solving or skill-building for the future. Here are a few examples.

A father once lamented that his toddler could not keep his little hands off the father’s iPhone. Every time the child touched the phone, the father put the child in time-out, yelled at him or threatened to take a way a toy. Nothing helped. Finally the father shifted his focus from punishment to solutions, and simply put the iPhone up high into a cupboard the toddler could not reach. Nice solution!

My own example is when my child kept forgetting to turn in his homework.  Week after week, he would go to the effort of completing it, but then not turn it in!  For a relatively organized parent like me, this recurring problem was infuriating.  I initially thought to take away his computer, eliminate his free time, or give him extra chores for every late or missing assignment.  But this kind of thinking would only address the behavior, not the cause of the behavior.  When I shifted my focus to solutions, and involved my child in helping to solve the problem, we came up with a way to tag and file his finished homework so that he was more likely to see it, and thus turn it in.

5.  Involve their kids in solving behavior problems.  As parents, we often feel we must take complete responsibility for solving our kids’ behavior problems.  We forget how powerful it can be to involve our kids in the process:
– First, kids are much more likely to follow through when they are part of the process.
– Second, when we ask our kids to share how they see the problem, we can get a much clearer picture of the problem’s root cause.
– Third, kids can come up with some great ideas!
– Fourth, as we involve our kids in the problem-solving process, we are teaching them how to solve problems for the long term.

After weeks (years, maybe, if I’m honest) of nagging, complaining, taking away privileges and angrily cleaning up after my kids, I finally asked them to help me solve the problem.

During a family meeting, I asked my kids to share their feelings about the messes.  “Sometimes I just forget to clean up,” one said.  Another offered, “I sometimes have to rush off to piano or school and I don’t have time to clean up.”  I empathized and validated their feelings.  Then I shared mine:  “My concern is that I enjoy a tidy home and get crabby when I have to clean up after everyone else.”  Then I asked them to help me brainstorm solutions for a “win/win.”

I wrote down every idea, theirs and mine, no matter how ridiculous they seemed.  After eliminating a few ideas that were not respectful, we voted on what was left.  The winner:  “Mom or Dad will say, ‘Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Clean up your mess’ as a reminder.”  I thought the idea was stupid and would never work, but went along with it to honor the process.  Then and even now, five years later, when I say that magical phrase, my kids go right to the mess and clean it up (most all of the time, not kidding.)

6.  Give themselves time to cool down before responding to challenging behavior.  When my child defies me outright, talks back, or ignores my requests, I immediately feel triggered.  I think, “How could she do that?!  After all I’ve done for her!  I will not stand for this!”  My heart starts pounding faster, my breath gets shorter, my eyes get squinty and I lean forward ready to pounce.

Inside, my limbic system is getting activated, and I’m moving into “fight or flight” mode.  But as energy moves into the limbic part of my brain, it’s moving OUT of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of my brain that allows me to use self-control, access moral reasoning, and find creative solutions.  In this triggered state, I’m literally dumber (some studies show that when angry, an adult’s IQ drops up to 60 points, or 50% of the average IQ.) How many times have you said something in anger that you quickly regretted?  That’s because you were dumber when you said it.

So while it is very tricky to pause before responding to your child’s infuriating behavior, it is way more effective to do so if you are feeling triggered. Very few situations are truly emergencies that must be dealt with immediately. Give yourself a few minutes to walk away, take some deep breaths, focus on nature, or write down your thoughts rather than speak them right then. When you feel more calm, you are much more likely to come up with a solution that is helpful, rather than hurtful.

So there they are:  6 things that great parents do at least sometimes!  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below.  Please tell me what would make your top 6!

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